If you’re watching your waistline, you may reach for sugar-free baked goods, candies or energy bars. But many of these products contain sugar alcohols, including sorbitol, xylitol, lactitol, mannitol, erythritol and maltitol, which are low in calories but may cause gas and bloating in some people.
Sugar alcohols are part of the group of compounds called FODMAPs, which stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols. These compounds bypass being absorbed in the small intestine and move to the large intestine where bacteria use them as a food source. “Bacteria ferment them, causing gas, bloating and abdominal pain for some,” says nutrition advocate and consultant Rachel Begun, M.S., RDN, adding that everyone’s tolerance for sugar alcohols is different. To test your body’s response, look for sugar alcohols in the ingredient lists of packaged foods, and if you find yourself feeling gassy and bloated, swap foods that contain sugar alcohols for individually wrapped squares of dark chocolate or frozen grapes.